Stirring revival falls just short

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A THUNDEROUS second half revival from Market Harborough 1sts just failed to overcome table-topping visitors Huntingdon in a hugely entertaining and competitive fixture.

The early exchanges belonged to Harborough as they pressured the visitors’ defence and an early penalty offered the chance for an immediate lead. Although the kick was missed, Will Taylor made amends soon after when the visitors infringed at a ruck and he duly kicked the goal.

Even in these early stages, it was evident that both teams were ‘switched on’ for this fixture, given the ferocity of the tackling and the energy exerted at the breakdown.

Huntingdon, unbeaten in the league this season, gradually began to gain control and with their lineout functioning well and their pack gaining an advantage at the scrum their backs began to look ominously threatening. An attacking scrum was capitalised upon for a converted try under the posts and a 7-3 lead.

Soon after, Harborough attempted to run the ball from defence, rather than choosing the safer option of kicking for territory and, lacking support, incurred a penalty for not releasing which, converted, gave the visitors a 10-3 advantage.

Undeterred, Harborough countered and earned a penalty of their own which was securely converted by Taylor.

As a team, however, they looked underpowered in the contact areas and nowhere near as threatening when the ball was moved into the open spaces.

This was underlined when the visitors scored again to take complete control of the first half. Huntingdon’s dominant set scrum shunted the hosts backwards to claim a forwards try and a lead which more properly reflected their superiority over the first 40 minutes.

The opening minutes of the second half belonged completely to Huntingdon as they scored two quick tries.

Facing a 31-6 deficit, Harborough might have capitulated but what followed proved to be a truly heroic and dramatic comeback.

With the introduction of the experienced Dan Bailey at scrum-half, their play became more focused and with the surging runs of Harry Hollis, Michael Goode and Jack Johnston making dents, the visitors’ secure control began to look fragile.

For a period of at least 15 minutes Harborough battered away at the opposition defence, earning any number of penalties. Another referee might well have issued one or more yellow cards against Huntingdon but, to the frustration of the home players and supporters, he demonstrated a charitable tolerance to repeated offences.

Finally Harborough earned their reward when, following the third penalty in quick succession, Goode smashed his way through the defensive wall for a richly deserved score.

Immediately from the restart Harborough surged forward again with the irrepressible and outstanding Hollis to the fore. A series of drives was halted but Bailey’s short pass to Johnston exploited hesitancy in the midfield and the latter crashed over for a well-taken try.

With this score and with Huntingdon looking extremely shaky, spectators and players alike began to believe in the unthinkable. Harborough battered forward again with the whole team demonstrating a huge hunger for the contest.

The referee finally lost patience with the persistent infringements of the visiting team and, in quick succession, awarded two yellow cards to reduce them to 13 players.

With this numerical advantage and with their tails up, Harborough were so in charge of the game that another try was inevitable. Further storming runs gave them a good attacking position but the try required an excellent finish by the rampaging Johnston as he stretched over the line to reduce the arrears to a mere six points at 25-31.

Unfortunately for Harborough, their supercharged effort did not quite earn what would have been a remarkable victory, as the referee blew for full time before they could lay siege to the Huntingdon line again.

Harborough team selections and fixtures this Saturday are:

1st (league game away at Biggleswade, meet 11.45am, ko 2.15pm) - squad D Bailey, E Bale, T Bale, S Blades, A Blatchly, M Goode, H Hollis, G Lee, T Lockwood, C Owen, D Peart, C Ralston, L Riordan, M Sneath, C Standley, E Sumpter, W Taylor, S Ziemelis.

2nd (league game away at Coalville 2nds, meet midday, ko 2.15pm) - squad N Airey, M Alcorn, C Brown, L Butler, R Charlesworth, H Davies, M Elton, H Hurst, B Lawniczak, J Lee, S Morris, E Prowse, K Robinson, D Shepherd, C Smith, R Smith, B Spowage, P Wilson.

The club’s Veterans have a league match at Aylestone St James 3rds (ko 2.15pm). The Colts have a pool fixture.